I’M not sure what caught my attention first when I stepped into our suite at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Belfast.
It might have been the stunning views over Belfast Lough. Or it could have been the lovely welcome message, written in icing on a slate board alongside two pieces of homemade fudge and a handwritten card wishing us a happy stay.
Both were equally unexpected and set us up for a lovely break at the beautiful Culloden.
Located just six miles from Belfast city centre, the five-star Culloden stands in 12 acres of secluded gardens and woodland.
Once serving as a Bishop’s Palace, Sir William Hastings purchased the property in 1967, when it was just a 13-bedroom boutique hotel.
Today there are nearly 100 bedrooms and suites.
The Hastings aren’t resting on their laurels, having recently completed a near-£5m renovation programme, and Culloden was named luxury hotel of the year at the Irish Hotel Awards 2017.
If the hotel is worthy of its five-star status (and it is) then the staff are equal to it – friendly and faultless throughout our stay, especially when it came to dinner.
There is a choice of two restaurants in the estate.
The Mitre is a fine dining experience while The Cultra Inn, which sits away from the main building on the grounds of the estate, is a cosy bar and bistro with roaring log fires.
We opted for the Mitre, where the chef came up with a bespoke menu on the spot that catered to our various dietary requirements.
Afterwards we moved next door to the impressively grand bar, where we slumped on a couch by the fire and rested after our beautiful three-course meal. I’ve never been in a hotel that boasts such an extensive art collection that a brochure is on hand to guide you through the various pieces on display, but it was quickly becoming obvious the Culloden was no ordinary hotel.
As easy as it would have been to enjoy the rest of the evening exploring the estate, we couldn’t come to Belfast and not take in the famous nightlife.
First stop was the Cathedral Quarter, which is home to an array of narrow streets filled with bustling bars and arts hubs.
The area seemed like the beating heart of the city and it felt like a Saturday night despite being the middle of the week.
Belfast has always been known for its gable-end political murals. But they do it differently in the Cathedral Quarter.
This is chock-full of inventive, non-political paintings depicting everything from DJ John Peel (who gave Northern Irish band The Undertones their big break) and boxer Carl Frampton to the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes (known locally as Samson and Goliath).
There’s also an image of actors Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, who starred in Belfast-set TV show, The Fall.
The following morning we got up bright and early to take advantage of Culloden’s luxurious spa and pool facilities before enjoying a hearty breakfast.
Afterwards, we took a few minutes for a walk round the grounds before it was sadly time to check-out.
Our stay at Culloden had been a delight from beginning to end and our only regret was that it was over so soon. We still had a few hours before it was time for our boat, so we drove back into the city centre for another nose around.
This wasn’t our first visit to Belfast and on our previous trip we went to the huge Titanic Museum and took the sightseeing bus tour. Both are must-do attractions if you’ve never done them before, but since we had we decided to further explore the city on foot instead.
We visited the City Hall – Belfast’s stunning civic building that is home to an exhibition, tea room, and a memorial garden and monument in honour of the Titanic – and St Anne’s Cathedral, which boasts the biggest Celtic cross I’ve ever seen on its exterior wall.
Unfortunately it was time to make our way to the docks for our boat back to Scotland.
Relaxed and refreshed after our stay at Culloden, we started making plans to return to Belfast for another visit before we had even reached dry land.
We stayed in the Culloden Estate and Spa, which offers nightly rates from £125 per person on a B&B basis.
Visit hastingshotels.com or call 028 9042 1066 for more information.